‘Do people want to read books or watch films about Covid? I don’t know – time will tell…’

Mark Billingham

When Say It With Garage Flowers last spoke to one of our favourite authors, UK crime writer Mark Billingham, it was exactly a year ago, for the publication of his novel Cry Baby – the seventeenth entry in the Thorne series and his twentieth book, if you include his three stand-alone thrillers: In the DarkRush of Blood and Die of Shame.

During that interview, he told us he’d written the majority of his next novel during lockdown. That book is published this month. It’s called Rabbit Hole and it’s another stand-alone, but, in typical Billingham style, it’s a highly original take on the locked-room murder mystery genre, with a great twist. No spoilers here, but it’s one of his best.

Written in the first person, it centres on the character of Detective Constable Alice Armitage, the novel’s narrator, who finds herself on the trail of a killer who has murdered a patient on an acute psychiatric ward. The problem is that Armitage is a patient too… and could she actually be the murderer? 

Despite its sensitive and often disturbing subject matter – severe mental health problems – Rabbit Hole is also a very funny book, full of darkly comedic moments.

Billingham started writing the novel in February last year – just before lockdown – and he finished it in four months. 

“I wrote it really quickly, because I couldn’t do anything else – I had nothing to do but write,” he tells Say It With Garage Flowers, sat outside a north London pub on a warm early evening in July. 

So did being locked-down at home while writing the novel inspire the subject matter of the book in any way? 

“It may have done subconsciously, but the more conscious decision was that I’d had some recent experience of that world, which was not something I’d known about until recently,” he says.

“It’s a personal book in many ways, because a close family member and a very close friend both spent time on an acute psychiatric ward. I had a wealth of stories.

“Graham Greene said that writers have a chip of ice in their heart – maybe crime writers have a much bigger chip of ice… I was confronted with a situation that was deeply unpleasant, traumatic, sad and disturbing, but, at the same time, there was part of me going, ‘wow – this would be a brilliant setting for a locked-room mystery.’”

He adds: “For every couple of horrible stories I heard, there were also some that were just hilarious, but in a dark way. Some of the more bizarre things in the book are completely true.”

Q&A

Mental health is a difficult subject to write about – it’s a sensitive topic. How did you approach the book to make sure you didn’t come across as patronising or ill-informed?

Mark Billingham: I was aware of that all the time – but you should always be aware, whatever you’re writing, of treating the subject with sensitivity and nuance.

I did a lot of personal research and I got to know some mental health professionals who were working in a ward and were kind enough to speak to me away from the location, off the record, as it were. There was always a conscious decision of what should I talk about, or not talk about, but you make those decisions all the time – every five minutes.

‘Graham Greene said writers have a chip of ice in their heart – maybe crime writers have a much bigger chip of ice…’

Because I’d decided to write the book in the first person, which is something I’d never done before, and I knew I wanted to be with this character, that’s a big decision, because if you’re asking your reader to spend 400 pages inside the head of the same character, you need to make that person attractive and engaging, even though they’re infuriating, frustrating and sometimes unpleasant.

Alice Armitage is an interesting character. She’s an anti-hero, isn’t she?

MB: Yes – and right off the bat she says she’s unreliable because she’s medicated and paranoid. In a way, she’s the perfect narrator for the book.

Rabbit Hole references the Covid-19 pandemic, although not in a big way, and it’s dedicated to the doctors, mental health nurses and health care assistants who lost their lives to the virus. Was it important for you to mention Covid in the book, and, if so, why?

MB: It was a difficult choice or call to make because I knew roughly when the book would be coming out and, back then [when I was writing it], like everybody else, I had no idea what the situation would be like. Would Covid have gone completely? Obviously, we know now that it hasn’t, but you can’t predict the future.

With the majority of the book being set on a mental health ward, I had to reference it, but I didn’t want to make too much of it – I didn’t want to make it a ‘Covid book’. I couldn’t pretend it hadn’t happened, or it wasn’t an issue, but I tried to make the references subtle. I didn’t want every other page to be about masks and hand sanitisers, but it’s obvious that it’s going on.

The reason I dedicated the book specifically to the medical professionals who’d lost their lives was because when I visited the ward, I got to know some of the mental health nurses – I spoke to one of them a lot outside the ward and she was very helpful.

She later told me that four of the nurses on that ward had died – nurses I’d met. What you extrapolate from that is, ‘Christ – if it’s four on one ward in North London, how many is it nationally?’ It felt like an appropriate thing to do.

‘It’s a personal book because a close family member and a very close friend both spent time on an acute psychiatric ward’

Have you read many new books by fiction authors that are referencing Covid?

MB: Yes – I have. Some have done it really well and some it’s obvious that they’ve had a last minute ‘Covid edit’. They’ve gone through it and just thrown in some references to masks, hand sanitisers and PPE to make it current, so it doesn’t appear dated. That’s kind of an odd thing to do – I think you need to do it, or not do it. You could set the book in 2021, so it’s not an issue, or in 2024, and hope Covid has gone by then, or you do what I did, and say, ‘I guess Covid is still going to be knocking around and I can’t pretend it hasn’t happened…’

I was talking to a comedian friend of mine and asked him whether comedians are doing any Covid material. He said they are, and audiences are loving it – it made me think that people want to go somewhere where they can laugh at it or about it – the experiences they’ve had. Laughing about it is one thing, but do they want to read books or watch films about it? I don’t know – time will tell.

Directly after the Second World War, people didn’t want to read about it – the golden age of crime fiction happened between the wars because people had had enough of grief and violence on a massive scale.

‘I was talking to a comedian friend of mine and asked him whether comedians are doing any Covid material. He said they are, and audiences are loving it’

Another good example is the huge explosion in recent years of Northern Irish crime fiction – while the Troubles were happening, there wasn’t any, because people were living it and they didn’t want to read about it. Now enough time has passed, and writers are looking at it and examining it – it’s really interesting. You need a little bit of distance.

Your last stand-alone novel, 2016’s Die of Shame, was also a ‘locked-room’ murder mystery, and it too dealt with people suffering from mental health issues –  a therapy group full of recovering addicts. Do you see Rabbit Hole as almost a companion book to it?

MB: Do you know what? I hadn’t until you mentioned it, but it kind of is, I suppose. They’re both takes on a locked-room mystery and they both have at their hearts the same premise.

When you have a traditional locked-room mystery, the characters are all guests in a stately home, or passengers on a cruise ship, but addiction or mental health affects anybody and everybody. That means you can have people from all sorts of different backgrounds.

In Die of Shame, I had an incredibly disparate group of people in terms of social demographics – where they’re from, and how much they earn, and what class they’re from. The same is true of people who end up sectioned.

But the mental health ward in Rabbit Hole is a ‘locked room’ which people can come in and out of…

MB: Yes – it’s an air-locked room… there are ways the patients can get out, for some periods of time, like short trips, but, essentially, you’ve got a group of half a dozen people with incredibly different stories. And I wanted to tell their stories too.

Like your other novels, there’s a lot of dark humour in Rabbit Hole. Was it an enjoyable book to write?

MB: I’m not sure I’d say it was enjoyable – it was a hard book to write, because of my personal connection to it. There were definitely moments when I had to stop and go, ‘should I be writing this?’ but I would always say, ‘yes, you should’.

The people I know who are close to this situation all told me I needed to write it. It was also time to write something different I’d written three Thorne novels on the bounce.

There are some cameo appearances by regular characters from the Thorne series in Rabbit Hole, including Thorne himself. You usually do this in your stand-alone books, don’t you? That must be fun – you’re expanding the Thorne universe…

MB: I’ve probably done it in this one more than any of the other stand-alones. I knew Thorne was going to make an appearance, and, because I was dealing with psychiatric issues, I knew Melita Perera would be in it. Hendricks gets a mention too, in a way in which readers of the series will go, ‘oh – I know who they’re talking about…’

It’s fun. You’re creating this fictional universe and characters drift in and out of it  – they come into the spotlight and then recede into the background.

It’s like the Marvel Universe…

MB: [laughs].

 

And your last book, Cry Baby, was an origins novel…

MB: Yes both me and [crime writer] John Connolly wrote origin stories at the same time – me with Thorne and him with Charlie Parker [The Dirty South] – without us knowing we were both doing it. You can them prequels, but it’s more trendy to call them origin stories.

Could you ever see any of the other characters from the Thorne universe, like Nicola Tanner, getting her own series of novels?

MB: YesI think that’s perfectly possible. Or maybe Hendricks will get his own book, or I might revisit a younger Thorne again. I don’t know it will be whatever idea suits the story that’s in my head.

Let’s talk about the next book after Rabbit Hole, which is another Thorne novel…

MB: The next book is done – it will be out this time next year. I’m ahead of the game because I wrote two books back-to-back very quickly.

Can you tell us anything about the next one?

MB: I can it’s not a big secret. It’s called The Murder Book. Thorne is back, but so is his worst nightmare. It couldn’t be a more different book to Rabbit Hole – it’s real pedal to the metal.

Finally, was the working title of Rabbit Hole ever Who The F*** Is Alice?

MB: I’ve had a few emails asking me that…

Rabbit Hole by Mark Billingham is out now and is published by Little, Brown.

www.markbillingham.com

 

‘I wanted to release something on my 50th birthday — these songs are a clear snapshot of where I’m at’

 

Jeff Caudill

In our first ever guest post for Say It With Garage Flowers, author Nick Quantrill talks to Californian singer-songwriter, Jeff Caudill, who has just released a brand new EP, Old Blood, to tie-in with his 50th birthday.

“This record does sort of feel like taking a breath before embarking on something new,” he tells us…

It’s been a tough 18 months for musicians, but for California’s Jeff Caudill, it’s still been a productive time.

With a cancelled UK tour and enforced downtime, he set to work exploring a back catalogue encompassing 30 years of work, firstly as the frontman of punk rockers, Gameface, and then through a series of solo releases to create Stay Home: The Quarantine Editions.

Premiering the tracks on social media and even releasing one on flexi disc via the Future Vampire Club label, looking backwards helped sow the seeds to move forward. His latest release, an EP called Old Blood, was released just ahead of his 50th birthday, which is on July 10 this year.

Old Blood is a small batch of intimate acoustic songs that I’ve written in recent years,” he says. “I wanted to release something on my 50th birthday and I feel these songs are a clear snapshot of where I’m at.”

It follows his Reset the Sun EP, from 2017, but it sounds nicely different and progressive, maybe sparser and more reliant on just voice and guitar, something Caudill agrees with.

“Of all the songs on Reset the Sun, the title track is the simplest, yet ultimately is the most immediately poignant. I spent a lot of time on arrangements for the other songs on that record, but the one that I just tracked live with an acoustic guitar hits just as hard.

‘This was a rough year for everyone and approaching 50 amidst all this puts a fine point on your mortality’

“I took this to heart while planning the recording of the new EP. It made sense in a lot of ways to keep the songs pure and simple. I keep a notebook with me and scribble thoughts and whatnot. I just keep musing until the right combination of words and music presents itself. The lyrics certainly reflect on my life up to the minute with some pretty heavy stuff. This was a rough year for everyone and approaching 50 amidst all this puts a fine point on your mortality.”

Jeff Caudill Old Blood

If you’ve followed Caudill’s work, you’ll hear that progression on Old Blood, but it retains the ready comfort of old favourites and familiar reference points. It’s the perfect jumping in point for new listeners.

“I had a few songs already written before I had the idea for this record: Irrational Anthem, I Know We’ll Never Know and Make Time Sleep are songs I had written for other projects. The two more recent songs, Waves and Old Blood, were written specifically for this project. I just wanted it to sound like a guy playing in a room. Just a guitar and a voice,” he says.

“I added some complementary instrumentation and some vocal harmonies, but it’s pretty minimal. I had spent almost a year in my home listening to a lot of the music I grew up on — Jackson Browne, Neil Young, CSNY, Poco, all that Laurel Canyon stuff.

“All the main tracks were done at home — some in my bedroom but mostly out in the garage, aka Ramshackle Studio. It’s astonishing what you can do with a decent microphone and a laptop these days. I sent all of the tracks to my long-time friend Jim Monroe to mix. We did one day at his studio to listen to everything and add some extra stuff, like the violin and some percussion. It was all quite simple, which is how I like it.”

‘I spent almost a year in my home listening to a lot of the music I grew up on — Jackson Browne, Neil Young, CSNY, Poco, all that Laurel Canyon stuff’

Monroe isn’t the only help Caudill received on the EP. On Make Time Sleep, the backing vocals and co-write comes from Career Woman, who also happens to be his daughter, Melody, a talented songwriter with her own burgeoning thing going on.

I’m sure I’ve learned a thing or two from her, plus we share a lot of music with each other. A record from last year that we both love is Better Oblivion Community Center. We listened to it a lot and noticed that in a lot of songs, Phoebe Bridgers and Connor Oberst aren’t singing harmony, they’re singing in unison but in different octaves. This was our attempt at that style. I wrote the guitar part and we both wrote lyrics for it. It’s loosely about time travel and video games. Our friend Kristi, from the band The Pollen Collective, played fiddle on the recording and she just knocks it out of the park. It’s one of my favourite moments on the EP.” 

Maybe new blood is the opposite of old blood in some way, but there’s a sense of energy it brings to the material and also points the way forward, something Caudill notes.

This record does sort of feel like taking a breath before embarking on something new, but I never really know what that is going to be. I just keep pushing on and doing what feels right in the moment. I’ve have a few projects up in the air over the past few year so it was nice to just sit down and make something happen in real time. Life is long and life is short. I’m happiest when I’m making stuff.”

One of these projects is the reissue of Gameface’s Three To Get Ready, the band’s blistering 1995 set, with added B-sides and outtakes.

“I look at the pictures and listen to that voice and it’s like I’m watching another person. I’m really proud of all of the music we made and I know this record means as much to some as it means to me and the band,” says Caudill.

“It’s wild to be able to enjoy a slightly-belated 25th anniversary of a punk rock record I made when I was 25. And at 50, I feel so very fortunate to have some of the folks who were with me way back then to still be with me now and want to hear what I have to say. None of this is lost on me.”

 

Old Blood by Jeff Caudill is out now: buy /stream/download/limited edition vinyl.

Free records? Only SMARTY has the answer…

New pop-up music store in London to give away records to customers.

Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we love vinyl records – especially when they’re free!

That’s why we were excited to hear about the launch of a new pop-up music shop with a difference, in London, to celebrate Record Store Day (July 17).

The SMARTY Disc-overy store is encouraging Brits to rediscover the joy of new music by giving away a free vinyl LP to each visitor, but here’s the, er, flip side – every album cover in the store will be covered up, so you won’t know what record you’ve been given.

Instead of picking albums and artists they already know and love, punters will choose a mystery record, with a sealed sleeve for the element of surprise.

It could be a rare, collectible album, a special edition, or a record by a new artist. Each record will be wrapped in a SMARTY Disc-overy store sleeve.

According to new research, restricted access to live music and record stores since the pandemic has meant the nation has fallen into a musical rut, listening to the same tracks over and over again.

In partnership with Record Store Day UK, the SMARTY Disc-overy store, which has been created by the SMARTY SIM-only mobile network, aims to ‘energise music lovers with new discoveries and serendipity’.

The store will also feature listening stations for customers, and a DJ whom visitors can request to play the vinyl they’ve been given.

The SMARTY Disc-overy store is free for the public to attend on Friday 16 July from 11am – 7pm, 19 Air Street, London, W1B 5AG (nearest tube is Piccadilly Circus).

Each visitor will receive a free vinyl LP.

For more information on Record Store Day, click here.

‘You hear how couples in the same band break up, but we don’t feel any need to write our The Winner Takes It All just yet’

New Morning Blues

 

New Morning Blues are husband and wife duo Ian de Sylva and Joanna Backovic.

The pair, who released their debut album, London, this summer, run a recording studio together in Soho, and are independent artists in their own right, but this is the first time they’ve collaborated musically.

“To be honest, we’ve always been pretty busy with our own music projects, and it never really occurred to us to work together,” says de Sylva, in an exclusive interview with Say It With Garage Flowers.

“I had a song called Polestar. It wasn’t something that really suited my voice, so I asked Joanna to sing it. It sounded great, so I just kept writing with two voices in mind rather than one. So far, I’ve written the songs and we’ve arranged the vocal parts together.”

Backovic is a composer and performance artist who creates scores for theatre and film – she also performs under the name ArHai – while de Sylva’s first band, Silver, released a single on Rough Trade Records.

Signed to Medicine/Warner Bros, Silver recorded their debut album with producer Craig Leon (The Ramones, Blondie). They toured with The Cranberries and Elastica, and de Sylva also recorded two solo albums.

London is an impressive and arresting debut, from the ‘take no prisoners’ opener, Fortune Teller Blues – primal, White Stripes-style, blues-rock with mean organ and dirty guitar – to the beautiful and spectral folk ballad The Mirror, with shades of Nick Drake;  the twangy, widescreen country-pop of The New Messiah; the cinematic psych soundtrack that is A Face In The Mirror, and the dramatic orchestration of On The Horizon.

There’s a haunting, atmospheric and autumnal quality to most of the record. “It’s pretty much autumn all year round in England, so that may have come through in the songs,” muses de Sylva.

Q&A

How are things? Have you got ‘new morning blues’?

Ian de Sylva: No – we’re both feeling pretty good today.

How did you find lockdown and are you getting back to some sense of normality?

IDS: We actually enjoyed lockdown up to a point, as it gave us both a lot more time to work on our music, which is what we love to do.

How has it been running a studio in Soho during the past year?

IDS: It’s been fine really, as we’ve been able to use the space for our own music more, so all good.

‘It’s pretty much autumn all year round in England, so that may have come through in the songs’

How did you approach the album musically? 

IDS: It developed very naturally, without a definite vision or plan sound-wise. I think it reflects music we both love, from psychedelia to country, folk and blues.

 

Can we talk about some of the songs? I’ll pick a few, give you some of my thoughts on them, and then can you give me yours.

Fortune Teller Blues: This is a raw, electric blues song – the heaviest track on the record. It has some great dirty guitar and organ on it…

IDS: It was written more as a kind of Dixieland jazz-type thing, but once I had the guitar riff, then it changed into something more bluesy. I wanted to write something upbeat and hopefully danceable.

The Mirror is one of my favourite songs on the record. It’s a haunting, folky ballad, with shades of Nick Drake…

IDS: We’re both fans of Nick Drake and love all his albums. Vashti Bunyan is also a big influence and I think that comes through on this one.

The New Messiah is another highlight for me. It’s jangly country-pop. It has a bit of a Nancy and Lee / mid-’90s Jesus and Mary Chain feel, circa Stoned & Dethroned. I love the twangy guitar solo.

IDS: We were watching a few of Tarantino’s movies and to me it sort of sounds like it could be in one of those films – definitely the guitar solo.

A Face In The Mirror is moody and cinematic, with a dramatic string arrangement…

IDS: This is more of a psychedelic influence. I think maybe it owes a lot to Arthur Lee.

What did you learn most from making a record together, and would you make another one?

IDS: We’re already recording a follow up-album, and working together on music has just been great so far. You hear a lot of stories of how being in the same band breaks couples up, but we don’t feel any need to write our The Winner Takes It All just yet.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

IDS: More recording over the next few months, then some gigs this autumn.

‘We actually enjoyed lockdown up to a point, as it gave us a lot more time to work on our music, which is what we love to do’

What music – new and old – are you enjoying? Any recommendations?

IDS: We’ve been listening to John Grant, The War on Drugs, a great Spanish band called Carino, Kilimanjaro by The Teardrop Explodes, Scott Walker and Sandy Denny.

Finally, why did you call the record London? 

IDS: It just seemed like an apt title. Having both lived in the city for a long time, it’s inevitably had a big influence on us, both as people, and our music.

London by New Morning Blues is out now on Berwick Music.

https://www.facebook.com/newmorningblues

‘Humour is a huge part of country music, but, in the past 15 or 20 years, it’s gotten really stupid and crass’

 

Bob Collum
Bob Collum

 

Exclusive interview with Bob Collum and the video premiere of his new single, Parachute – out today (July 2 – Fretsore Records).

On his latest album, This Heart Will Self Destruct, Olkahoma-born, but Essex-based Americana singer-songwriter, Bob Collum, covers lyrical themes including anxiety, hope, fear, humour, uncertainty, love, disappointment, redemption and faith.

Judging by the subjects he’s chosen to tackle, you won’t be surprised to find that the record was mostly written during the first Covid-19 lockdown. Collum says the album “began life on the cusp, before the insanity of 2020”, adding: “I think it captures the last year quite well.”

Impressively, on the opening track, and brand new single, Parachute – the video is premiering on Say It With Garage Flowers today –  he manages to cover off hope, fear, humour, uncertainty, love and faith in the one song.

It’s a mid-paced, rootsy, country rock shuffle, with violin, on which Collum tells a potential partner: “It’s a leap of faith, you know that much is true, but I’ll share my one and only parachute with you.”

Parachute is me writing a more positive type of song, but with an escape clause,” he says, in an exclusive interview with Say It With Garage Flowers.

“I wish I could write a really upbeat love song, but they’re very difficult. This is as close to a feel-good song as I’ve written. It’s about the uncertainty of life. Sometimes it helps to have somebody there to face it with you. It’s an universal theme, but I liked the image of a parachute.”

Surely the classic country song take on it would be to have a parachute that doesn’t open?

“Absolutely. The answer song would be Who Packed the ‘Chute?” he says, laughing.

‘Parachute is me writing a more positive type of song, but with an escape clause. I wish I could write a really upbeat love song, but they’re very difficult’

Recorded with his band, the Welfare Mothers – “although only one is a mother, and none are on welfare at the moment, they remain the tightest band this side of the Thames Delta” – the album was produced by Pat Collier at his Perry Vale Studios in South East London.

Most of the recordings were done intermittently, with safety taking priority.  “At our age, most of the band were in the danger zone,” muses Collum.

The Welfare Mothers comprise Mags Layton (violin and vocals), Martin Cutmore (bass) and Paul Quarry (drums and percussion). Honorary member, guitarist Martin Belmont (Graham Parker and the Rumour, Nick Lowe, My Darling Clementine) plays the Fender Stratocaster and Fender VI bass on the album, adding a mean, Duane Eddy-style, twangy solo to the jaunty Shake It Loose.

Belmont’s ‘70s pub rock influence comes across on Giving Up, which is an infectious power-pop song – kind of New Wave meets country.

Elsewhere, there’s tongue-in-cheek country (the title track);  echoes of early R.E.M (Second Fiddle); a sad and reflective country ballad inspired by the likes of Johnny Cash (From Birmingham) and a raucous, fiddle-fuelled rockabilly cover of Saved, which is an R&B-flavoured song written by Leiber and Stoller and first recorded by Lavern Baker in the early ‘60s. Elvis Presley and Joe Cocker have released versions of it.

Collum also dips into blues (Tall Glass of Muddy Water) and soul territory (Spare Me). On the latter, he’s joined by Peter Holsapple (The dB’s and R.E.M.), who plays a mean Hammond B3 organ and also sings backing vocals. The song was an intercontinental collaboration between him and Collum.

Say It With Garage Flowers got to spend some quality time talking with Collum before his heart self-destructed…

Q&A

How was lockdown for you and how has Covid affected your plans as a musician?

Bob Collum: Lockdown provided a focus – the new record was pretty much written during the first lockdown.

It was like being stuck in a weird alternate reality, which stripped everything back to basics. I missed rehearsing and playing gigs – that’s part of music. We do it because we like that aspect – the commonality of sharing a love of music. Maybe now we’ll appreciate every single gig even more than we did before – the chance to play music live is going to be really special and nobody will take it for granted again.

I started thinking about life and what I enjoyed doing. I was able to sit down and be focused in a way in which I haven’t been for years. I did home demos and there was a lot more space to be creative.

That was really interesting. I’ve also managed to write another new record – I have more than enough songs for another one.

When we signed to Fretsore [record label] we going to put out an EP before we did an album. We recorded three or four songs in December and then we were going to go back into the studio in January, but we had to reschedule for late February and then Covid hit.

So we held off until things were safe, but then I picked up my guitar and started to write – the songs started happening, and the band liked them, so we thought ‘let’s do a full album’.

We did a session in late summer, when things opened up a bit, and it went really well, so we did the whole album and finished it up – then things went crazy again. It’s interesting how this record came to fruition – it was a happy accident, I guess.

The album was produced and recorded by Pat Collier at his Perry Vale Studios in South East London…

BC: We’ve been working with Pat for years – he’s one of those classic producers. He did his apprenticeship in the late ‘60s/ early ‘70s at Decca – he was around when all the stuff that we love was being done, but he’s also fully up to date, with Pro Tools and everything. He’s not a slave to the old-fashioned way of doing it. His bag is that he wants to record a band playing together by using the technology that makes it easier to do so.

The record really captures the performances well – it almost feels like a live album… 

BC: I really appreciate that – when I started making records, back in the ‘80s, everything was done a track at a time… The performance is part of the recording. The most important part of the producer’s job is to make everyone feel comfortable and have fun – that’s what Pat’s really good at it.

To be a good producer and an engineer, you have to be good at psychology because, like any other conglomeration of human beings, in a band there are all sorts of things going on and you need to know how to keep things moving and how to appeal to the different egos. Pat manages to massage everyone into giving a great performance and he never gets flustered.

The title track is one of my favourite songs on the record…

BC: Thanks, man.

It’s a tongue-in-cheek country song, isn’t it?

BC: Yeah – I love the great soulful and emotional stuff, like George Jones, but he also wrote crazy, almost novelty, songs, like I’m A People, or Love Bug. Humour has always been a huge part of country music, but one of the problems is that in the past 15 or 20 years, the humour has gotten really stupid and crass. If you like all the great writers, like Shel Silverstein, their songs always have a wry side to them.

And they’re self-deprecating…

BC: Yeah – that’s the perfect word for them. If you have a sense of humour, you can get away with all sorts of stuff. Having that ability to wink at yourself is very important, because then, when you are being serious, people realise that you are serious.

I like the title, This Heart Will Self Destruct, which is a nod to Mission Impossible, isn’t it?

BC: My co-writer, Dave Bailey and I were sitting around and talking about the great country writers of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s – a lot of the time you could tell that they started with the title and worked backwards. It’s a great way of writing – it’s like starting a puzzle with the outside edges.

We were talking about phrases… I’m a big Mission Impossible fan – the TV show with Martin Landau. I’ve not seen any of the movies.

I was thinking about a guy who wanted to warn someone that things were going to end badly –  ‘I’ll end it first before you have a chance to hurt me’. That kind of thing. The phrase ‘This heart will self-destruct’ just popped into my head. We wrote the chorus, then filled in the blanks.

There are some blues and soul influences on the album, particularly on the songs  Tall Glass of Muddy Water and Spare Me... On the latter, you sing the great line: “I’ve got work to do like The Isley Brothers. What makes you think you stand in front of all of the others?” And Peter Holsapple plays organ on it… How did you get to work with him?

BC: I was a huge dB’s fan back in the day. I met him in the ’90s, at SXSW. We swapped numbers and our friendship developed over time. We did a gig together the year before last, which turned out be really fantastic, and, out of the blue one day, he said to me: ‘I’ve got this song –  do you want to help me finish it?’ And he sent it to me. We did it and then he asked if me and guys wanted to record it, so I said, ‘of course!’ I like the groove it has – it’s not what you’d you expect from us, but it still sounds like us.

Holsapple played with R.E.M, and I think your song, Second Fiddle, has the feel of early R.E.M…

BC: Yeah –  you can’t be alive at our age and not be influenced by them. They were a band in the ’80s that were a touchstone. Peter Buck plays guitar like you want a guy to play guitar. He’s an influence. When I play arpeggios on guitar, it comes directly from Buck and Roger McGuinn [The Byrds.]

The Byrds are an important band – probably the most important American group of the ’60s. They were fearless when it came to their influences. They had no problem crossing the line.

They were the American Beatles…

BC: Exactly. They did something nobody else were doing and they influenced The Beatles. You’d also be hard-pressed to find a group of guys who were as perfect as The Beach Boys.

What’s your approach to songwriting? 

BC: I try to avoid it! [laughs]. There’s no real way of doing it. I’m not like Paul Simon, doing it 9 to 5, with a yellow pad in front of you, or like Peter Case, who calls it ‘skywriting’ – waiting for the inspiration and song to come.

‘The Byrds are probably the most important American group of the ’60s.They were fearless when it came to their influences

The way I’ve been doing it lately is by coming up with a melody and some key words and phrases, putting it down on GarageBand, doing the lyrics off the top of my head, and then editing them as I’m doing it, and recording a demo. It’s a similar process to the way you’d write in the studio, but the studio is in my phone.

I don’t think there’s a set way of writing a song. There comes a time when you say, ‘how the hell did I write that?’ That’s life –  when you get older, you don’t do anything the way you did when you were 20, 21 or 22…

As writers it’s difficult to maintain the same style. People say there’s a formula –  yeah, there is, but sometimes you forget the recipe. Elvis Costello couldn’t make a record now like he did in 1978 if he tried, but he could make one that sounds fantastic, which is what he’s doing. It doesn’t sound like he’s aping his past.

Who are your songwriting heroes?

BC: Lennon and McCartney, Costello, Dylan… I always find it weird when people don’t like Dylan. It’s like a writer saying they don’t like Shakespeare.

What music –  new and old – have you been enjoying recently? Did you have a lockdown soundtrack?

BC: Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways has been a hugely important record. I don’t think it could’ve been better timed – it did so much for so many people I know who listened to it. Dylan exists out of time and space – he just does what he wants to do.

You said earlier that you’d written another album. Are you hoping to record that this year?

BC: Yes, but realistically it will be autumn or winter, when things get back to normal.

What have you been writing about?

BC: Fewer love songs, but more ‘what the hell’s going on?’ songs. I should call the next record 12 Angry Songs. They’re not angry songs, but they’re more ‘what the heck?’ I’ve sent demos to everyone – Martin Belmont said it’s some of the most melodic stuff I’ve ever written, which is pretty cool.

Finally – this interview will self-destruct in 10 seconds. What’s the last thing you’re going to say to me?

BC: I just hope you like the record, man. During these crazy times, music has held me together more than I ever thought it would –  I think it’s done that for a lot of us. If just 10 people hear it, it’s important.

This Heart Will Self Destruct by Bob Collum and the Welfare Mothers is out now on Fretsore Records.

http://www.bobcollum.com

https://fretsorerecords.bandcamp.com/track/this-heart-will-self-destruct

Tour Dates – Bob Collum and the Welfare Mothers

June 19 – The Plough, Shepreth
July 6  – The Horns, Watford
August 1 – The Geese & Fountain, Croxton Kerrial (solo)
August 28 – Thornton Hough Village Club
September 5 – Southchurch Park Cafe, Southend
September 12 – The Flying Pig, Cambridge
September 18 – Queen St Brewhouse, Colchester
October 16 – The Grove Inn, Leeds
October 30 – The Smyth Arms, London
November 25 – The Betsey Trotwood, London

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